Vos, Hintz debate impact of Kavanaugh controversy on midterms

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says Democrats have “overplayed their hand” with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and predicts their actions will translate to higher Republican turnout — and a closer election — come November.

But Minority Leader Gordon Hintz countered with the midterms happening among a broader discussion of the “Me Too” movement, Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t help himself or Republicans.

The two legislative leaders spoke at a WisPolitics.com election preview luncheon in Madison this week. Their comments came as the FBI was in the midst of its extended background investigation into Kavanaugh, which wrapped up later in the week, and senators reviewed it yesterday.

Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said the news surrounding Kavanaugh would ultimately serve to “motivate the types of voters we’ve seen increasingly coming over to the Democratic Party.”

“I don’t know how anybody can look over what happened over the last week and say it’s a positive thing for Republicans, especially when you look at their low standing among female voters,” he said.

But Vos said the “circus of a Senate show trial” for Kavanaugh is already contributing to a “huge increase in the momentum” playing out in internal polling.

“There is a hyper-energized Democratic base, and we know that already. So the fact that they overplayed their hand on Brett Kavanaugh is really driving up Republican base turnout, which will probably mean the election is much closer…” he said.

Still, the Rochester Republican later predicted the Kavanaugh news would “motivate people on both sides for the wrong reasons,” adding his goal is to “motivate people to vote, because we have a great agenda.”

Hintz, meanwhile, said he’s “very bullish” about Dem chances next month.

He pointed to the latest Marquette University Law School poll, which showed 75 percent of Dems very enthusiastic about voting, compared to 64 percent of Republicans. In August, 69 percent of Republicans said they were very enthusiastic to vote, compared to 67 percent of Dems.

“We like where we are. When we came out a year ago, my goal was to put us in a position where if the opportunity is there, we could take advantage of it,” he said.

Vos cautioned that because Republicans were in control of 68 percent of the nation’s partisan state legislative chambers following the November 2016 general, a record number, his party has “some area to give back nationally.”

Still, he singled out three Assembly districts in Wisconsin that were carried by Hillary Clinton: Rep. Todd Novak, of Dodgeville, who represents AD 51; Rep. Jim Ott, of Mequon, whose seat is the 23rd AD; and Rep. Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield, in AD 14. Kooyenga is leaving his seat to run for state Senate.

Vos said in the past, seats flipped were largely the open ones, not those held by incumbents. He pointed to 2006, a Dem wave year, where Assembly Republicans lost eight seats, a number of which were open.

As for Novak and Ott, Vos said the two are “known, likable quantities who have delivered to their district,” and he later added he’s “confident” those seats will stay Republican.

He also highlighted races in three open seats, in addition to AD 14: Rep. Lee Nerison’s southwestern 96th AD; Rep. Ed Brooks’ central 50th AD; and Rep. Kathy Bernier’s west-central 68th AD.

Hintz, noting that the four Dems running for those seats have outraised their GOP counterparts, pointed to southeastern Wisconsin as the area with the “biggest potential” for Dems this fall, including Kooyenga’s 14th AD and Ott’s 51st AD.

Other southeastern Wisconsin seats he said are in play include: Rep. Dan Knodl’s 24th AD, Rep. Joe Sanfelippo’s 15th AD and Rep. Rob Hutton’s 13th AD.

And he predicted all three Assembly seats that make up Sen. Howard Marklein’s 17th Senate District will be competitive. The district includes the seats now occupied by Brooks, Novak, and Rep. Travis Tranel in AD 49.

Hintz said while the “numbers aren’t great” for former state Sen. John Lehman in the open 62nd AD, he said the race should be categorized as a “dark horse” due in part to Lehman’s Racine-area name ID.

“While I agree with Robin that some parts of the state are going to overperform, and some parts are probably going to be closer to 2016, we know there’s going to be some surprises out there,” he said. “We certainly feel good about our targets. We’re not getting carried away. We’re trying to do everything we can to support those that we think can catch a wave by doing the work.”

Vos overall predicted the “worst case scenario” for Assembly Republicans would be reducing their 64-seat majority to the “upper 50s,” though he noted he thinks the numbers will be more favorable for the GOP than that.

And Hintz said “in a year like this” he isn’t going to “rule out the majority.” While he didn’t give a specific number, he predicted Assembly Dems would “come back in a better spot” than their current 35-seat hold in the chamber.

See a WisconsinEye video of the luncheon. 

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